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Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), also known as ling zhi in China, grows wild on decaying logs and tree stumps. Reishi occurs in six different colors, but the red variety is most commonly used and commercially cultivated in East Asia and North America.
The reishi mushroom is a derivative of the Far East with its usage dating back to ancient China. Royalty would utilize this precious mushroom in the hopes of obtaining immortality and promoting calmness and thought. Chinese medicine now includes therapy with reishi for fatigue, asthma, insomnia, and cough.
Ganoderma lucidum has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 4,000 years to treat liver disorders, high blood pressure, arthritis, and other ailments. In modern times, the available data from human trials together with evidence from animal studies suggest that Ganoderma lucidum may have some positive benefits for cancer and liver disease patients. However, the number and quality of trials is very limited. Other promising uses for which there is still inconclusive evidence include diabetes, heart disease, pain, Russula subnigricans poisoning, and proteinuria (protein in the urine). Reishi is also believed to reduce cholesterol levels and has an anticoagulant ("blood-thinning") effect, which may make it useful in coronary heart disease prevention.
Some experts believe that Ganoderma lucidum promotes longevity and maintains vitality of the human body. Reishi's major benefit appears to be its immunomodulating action, improvement of liver function, and improvement and restoration of the normal functions of the respiratory system. Antioxidant effects, which contribute to the overall well-being of patients, have been proposed. In the 16th Century pharmacopeia Ben Cao Gang Mu, reishi was described as being able to affect the life energy, or qi, of the heart, repair the chest area, increase intellectual capacity, and banish forgetfulness.
Reishi is currently regulated in the United States as a dietary supplement. It is also included in the 2,000 Pharmacopoeia of the People's Republic of China as an agent approved for the treatment of dizziness, insomnia, palpitations, shortness of breath, cough, and asthma. At this time, high quality clinical trials supporting the use of reishi mushroom are lacking. More proven therapies are recommended at this time.
Reishi has been shown to have antineoplastic and immunomodulatory effects in animal studies. One clinical trial and two case reports exist on advanced cancer patients using Ganopoly®, aGanoderma lucidumpolysaccharide extract. Results show improved quality of life and enhanced immune responses, which are typically reduced or damaged in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. It is important to note that these data were published by the same group of authors who are affiliated with the manufacturer of Ganopoly®. Well-designed long-term studies are needed to confirm these results and potential side effects.
Chronic hepatitis B:
Based on positive laboratory evidence, a clinical trial using Ganopoly® or placebo was conducted in chronic hepatitis B patients. Ganopoly® treatment decreased the level of hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA. This virus is notoriously hard to clear from the body and recurrence after treatment is common. Again, the affiliation of authors to the manufacturer of the drug is noteworthy. Further well-designed research is needed before a strong recommendation can be made.
Coronary heart disease:
A clinical trial was conducted to evaluate the effect of Ganopoly® on coronary heart disease in human. Ganopoly® treatment improved the major symptoms (e.g., angina (chest pain), palpitations, and shortness of breath), decreased abnormal ECG appearance, and decreased blood pressure as well as cholesterol levels in these patients. Long-term study is needed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of Ganopoly® before it may be recommended for CHD. The authors are closely related to the manufacturer of Ganopoly®.
Diabetes mellitus type 2:
Based on animal studies that demonstrated the blood sugar and lipid-lowering activities ofGanoderma lucidum(ling zhi, reishi mushroom), a clinical study was conducted to evaluate the effect of Ganopoly® versus placebo in diabetic patients. The treatment of Ganopoly® slightly decreased the levels of plasma glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin and improved other markers for diabetes. Long-term studies with larger sample size are needed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of Ganopoly® in treating diabetic patients. The authors are closely related to the manufacturer of Ganopoly®.
High blood pressure:
Ancient Chinese monks utilized the reishi mushroom to calm their minds for meditation. Theory would lead one to believe that the physiological effects of decreasing blood pressure may have lead to the calming effect precipitated by the ingested reishi. Preliminary data suggest that reishi may exert a blood pressure-lowering effect; however, the currently available evidence in this area is weak. Future studies are warranted to validate the results of these small studies and to provide clinical usefulness of reishi as a possible treatment for high blood pressure.
Reishi extract was effective in decreasing postherpetic pain (pain after herpes lesions heal) in one case series. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Poisoning (Russula subnigricans):
Ganoderma lucidumhas shown a beneficial effect in treating RSP in one small trial. Further well-designed clinical trials are needed to confirm these results.
Proteinuria (protein in the urine):
One clinical trial was conducted to evaluate the effect ofGanoderma lucidumin treating kidney disorder patients with persistent proteinuria resistant to steroids with or without immunosuppressants.Ganoderma lucidumtreatment decreased proteinuria in the small number of patients in this study. This trial provides good preliminary data, but long-term studies with a larger amount of patients are needed to evaluate the effects ofGanoderma lucidumon proteinuria.
A combination of reishi mushroom and San Miao San (a mixture of several Chinese herbs) may help reduce the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. These herbs did not reduce swelling. More research with reishi mushroom alone is needed.